Many child molesters are pedophiles, but not all pedophiles are child molesters.
This issue was raised in a recent discussion at the Faculty of Social Studies, the University of Indonesia. With the theme “Untangling the Narrative of Pedophilia and Sexual Crimes against Children,” the discussion addressed some basic issues surrounding pedophiles and pedophilias, including what we should know about them psychologically and biologically, as well as their position within the law.
“Among the first thing to keep in mind about pedophilia is that it refers to an intense, recurring, sexually arousing fantasies that involve children, but not all pedophiles are child abusers,” said Tara Aseana, a psychiatrist from University of Indonesia.
The consensus definition of pedophilia is having “sexual urges for children of pre-puberty age or younger,” Tara said, adding pedophiles can be both men and women. However, not all pedophiles react to their sexual drives in a way that harm others. It actually takes a professional diagnosis to reveal whether or not a child molester is an actual pedophile.
“The media or law enforcements cannot jump to a conclusion that a convicted child abuser is a pedophile before a solid diagnosis from experts has been made,” said Tara.
One of the requirements for a person to be considered a pedophile is that she or he has “constant desire for and sexual fantasies of children that goes on for a minimum of six months period.” If the urges come and go or it last less than six months, it cannot be considered pedophilia, she said. During the examination process, the suspected pedophile should also not be under the influence of any substance.
Physiologically, pedophilia can be detected, said neurobiologist Prof. Dr. Nur Arif.
“A pedophile’s brain tends to feel sexual arousal when faced with children’s faces. Through MRI, we can test these tendencies by looking at how the brain reacts to pictures of children. If the brain turns purple, it means it releases dopamine (chemical that helps regulate emotional responses). Dopamine is the same thing being produced when, for instance, a woman falls in love with a man, or a man falls for a woman,” he said.
Still, he stressed, “not all pedophiles act out these intense feelings by exploiting or abusing children. They certainly can control these urges – just like not all heterosexual men want to rape women, for instance.”
Therefore there is no specific law that criminalizes pedophiles, but there are regulations on child offenders.
“Our law regulates punishments towards child molesters – and a child molester can be either a pedophile, a heterosexual, or a homosexual. Anybody who has a bad intent and an opportunity could sexually abuse a child,” explained Mamik Sri Supratini, a criminology lecturer at the University of Indonesia. “In short, it doesn’t matter what their sexual orientation is, if they molest a child, they will be punished accordingly.”
Child Sex Tourism
Rio Hendra from ECPAT Indonesia, a network of civil society organisations to end the sexual exploitation of children, shared some cases to further illustrate the ways sexual crimes against children are conducted, particularly by foreign visitors .
“Indonesia is now one of the main destinations for child sex tourism. In this modus operandi, the foreigners usually pretend to be here for tourism or for work-related matter, while in fact they aim to look for children to exploit,” he said, adding Bandung, Bali, Medan, Batam and Lombok are some of the most popular destinations for child sex tourism.
Rio explained that child sex tourists are willing to spend money to establish good relations with local people, such as building public bathrooms or wells in their village. Once the trust is earned, the locals wouldn’t suspect them if they ask the children to go out swimming or conduct some activities with them.
As a result, the locals will find it hard to believe when, for instance, the children tell them that they are hurt or molested by the tourists. Unsuspecting parents even trust these foreigners enough to let them bring their children to their home countries, believing that these tourists will raise the children better and offer promising work opportunities.
“Another strategy used by the perpetrators is claiming they are teachers who are looking for awardees of certain scholarships. That way, it will be much easier for them to take the children away from their parents,” he added.
Rio also said that some countries actually provide data to the Indonesian government on their citizens with records of child exploitation who are in Indonesia. Some of the most comprehensive data come from the Australian government, which reveals the identities of their citizens with history of child exploitation. Our immigration officer can further decide whether to permit these people to come to Indonesia or not.
Rio said tackling sexual crimes against children requires a comprehensive strategy involving the government, private sectors, parents and other elements of society. The government should provide information on sexual harassment and sexual exploitation of children to parents, revealing methods often used by perpetrators, while the private sectors should create programs to prevent child sex exploitation in tourism destination.
“It takes a coherent system within all layers of society, including parents, private sectors, and government to better protect children from child exploitation,” he added.
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